Friday, February 24, 2012
Salted Caramel Sauce. All this stuff needs is a nice bowl of vanilla ice cream. Or chocolate. Or dulce de leche. Or just a honkin’ big spoon...
If there is one flavor that can pull me right back to my childhood - aside from chocolate, that is, in its many forms - it’s caramel.
Who doesn’t remember the delight of digging through a sack of Kraft caramels, hunting for the elusive chocolate caramels amongst their fairer-hued brethren? The difficult-to-remove plastic film that enclosed each piece, obnoxious as it seemed at the time, was actually helpful, ensuring a more reasonable pace of Caramel Consumption.
And then there is caramel sauce, capturing that magical burnt-sugar flavor in fluid form. As a topping on ice cream, as an essential component of tarte tatin and crème caramel, or converted into caramel icing for the eponymous cake, it’s notoriously hard to resist. Small wonder the supermarket eggheads have figured out that while people will eat apples, they will eat far more apples if they can dunk the slices into a handy tub of caramel sauce. Even the Latino contingent has gotten in on the act, with their dulce de leche, a caramelized sweetened milk confection. Formerly an exotic import, it’s everywhere now - even unto becoming a Cheerios flavor right up there with Honey Nut and Berry Blast.
She Who Must Be Obeyed developed a caramel jones the other day - unusual for her - and asked me to fix up a batch of a suitable sauce. I dared not ask her what she wanted to put it on, but I suppose I’ll find out.
There are plenty of variations on the Caramel Sauce theme, but I settled on one that SWMBO had pulled up in her extensive electronic research, a recipe for a Salted Caramel Sauce from the Cooking Channel’s Kelsey Nixon.
Salted? Yes, salted. Salty and sweet have a natural affinity, with a moderate amount of salt serving to intensify and enhance the flavor of whatever it accompanies. That would explain the perverse appeal of praline bacon (bacon + brown sugar + pecans), or Mo’s Bacon Bar (chocolate + bacon), or, for that matter, chocolate-covered sea salt.
It also would explain why sea salt in its various forms has infiltrated the chocolate market. Now you can find all sorts of salt-jacked chockies, including a Lindt sea-salt and dark chocolate bar, not to mention all manner of fleur de sel-dusted caramel candies at the Fancy Chocolate Shoppes.
So this one was a natural. And it came together easily enough.
You don’t need to screw around with a candy thermometer to make a decent caramel sauce. All you have to remember is (1) not to stir the syrup as it boils, and (2) never to walk away from it, as it will change from a clear syrup to a burnt, blackened mess in mere moments. What you want to do is catch it just as it begins picking up a nice amber hue - that’s when you pull it off the heat, whisk in the cream, and toss in the butter. As soon as that cream hits the sugar syrup, caramel happens!
[Sugar. Cream. Butter. Did I say this was a low-calorie recipe? No, I did not. But then again, the Missus and I don’t eat this stuff every day.]
I used fleur de sel as my Salt of Choice, but any decent sea salt would do.
And the results? Good Gawd.